In response to outcry from town leaders in Southampton and Riverhead that the front lobby of the state police barracks in Riverside might go unmanned, state Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele are saying the issue has do with trouble hiring a dispatcher.
A dispatcher would typically man the front desk, the representatives say.
In the meantime, an officer has been filling in.
Mr. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) says there are 24 troopers and 11 other sworn officers, including ranking officers, at the Riverside barracks and insisted that number will not change no matter what the state police plan to do moving forward.
“The issue comes up over a dispatcher, who is a civil servant employee, and they have gone through the list and no one wants the job,” Mr. LaValle said, adding that the position starts at about $41,000 a year. “We’re trying to be creative and come up with a way of having a dispatcher.”
Both he and state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said they couldn’t understand why it would be so difficult to fill such a position.
Reached this week, a state police spokesperson said they are reviewing plans to consolidate dispatch centers in each of the state’s nine patrol troops — which could amount to the Riverside barracks going without one — though there was nothing specific mentioned about any trouble hiring a dispatcher.
“Regardless of the decision reached, we are committed to serving the people of Suffolk County and there will be no disruption or loss of the services that residents have come to expect from the state police,” the spokesperson said.
Captain David Candelaria of the Riverside barracks better explained the situation to The Southampton Press.
He said that while consolidating communications centers has been kicked around for years, it appears to be gaining traction among higher-ups, according to The Press account.
And, he said, the desk officer position could be eliminated before summer begins.
“Right now, headquarters is conducting a feasibility study to see if it will work,” he told The Press.
Capt. Candelaria could not be immediately reached by the News-Review for comment.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter sent a letter to state Senator Ken LaValle dated March 4 asking for the senator’s help in keeping the barracks at the Route 24 traffic circle open for walk-in complaints and people in need of assistance.
“The Town of Southampton granted this property to the State of New York to allow for a police presence in an area they are trying to revitalize,” Mr. Walter wrote the senator. “Their effort to improve that area is a direct link to our revitalization efforts in downtown Riverhead.”
Riverhead starts at Peconic Avenue, just a few hundred yards from the barracks.
Mr. Walter said it’s his understanding that if the front desk is unmanned, the doors would be locked to the public.
Either way, Mr. Walter said, anything short of a live officer at the door “is not acceptable.”
“If you’re in a crisis situation, people do run to a police station seeking refuge,” he said. “The door should be open and you should be greeted by a police officer, not even a civilian. I don’t think the residents of Riverhead would expect anything less when they came into our headquarters.”
As of now, a uniformed officer is manning the barracks’ lobby.
“There is a uniform member that is currently part of our communication control point (dispatch center) at zone headquarters,” the police spokesperson said.
Southampton Town Board members have written a joint letter to state leaders protesting any staff reduction.
“My colleagues and I have written jointly to our state representatives urging them to ensure the New York State Trooper barracks in Riverside are kept open and maintained at staffing levels that will ensure residents can continue to freely walk into the station for assistance,” Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said in a statement. “We all agree … that the accessibility of this location has provided an immeasurable sense of security for the area, and is critical to its revitalization.”
Mr. Walter said he wrote directly to the the senator because he was instrumental in getting the station moved from an isolated stretch of Route 24 to the east, near Sears Bellows State Park in the Red Creek area, to what was then town-owned land at the traffic circle.
Mr. LaValle said he helped secure money in the state budget for the move.
“They were down the road on 24 in a house that wasn’t very conductive for the esprit de corps of our state police,” Mr. LaValle said. “Pataki was the governor at the time, he came down and we dedicated the facility.”
“It’s a dispatcher issue,” he continued. “Initially, everyone thought that one, the barracks was being closed and two, we were losing officers. That is not true.”
Mr. Thiele said though it’s hard to imagine not being able to fill a $41,000 position with many people in need of work, that’s what his office is being told.
“We’re still trying to get the bottom of it, but we certainly want to see to it staffed,” said Mr. Thiele, whose Assembly district covers all of Southampton Town, where the barracks are located. “To me, when Southampton donated the land and Senator LaValle and I worked to get the barracks located there, part of the plan was to have the police be able to interact with the public. That’s very important.”